IRENA puts the spotlight on renewable energy
Encouraging the shift away from oil, gas and coal and towards wind, solar and water power to help combat climate change, improving access to energy, and fighting poverty are the main aims of the brand new International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which is putting renewable energy sources at the top of the agenda. A challenge the 136 countries from both North and South that make up the agency will face together.
“IRENA’s role as an agency is to bring all nations together to form a united front in a worldwide battle: the transition to clean energy sources,” explains its Interim Director-General, Frenchwoman Hélène Pelosse. Launched on 29 June 2009 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, IRENA, which was officially established in Bonn (Germany) on 26 January this year, brings together 136 signatory countries from both North and South, all with a commitment to combining their efforts to make rapid progress on the development of renewable energy.
A radical change of course
“When you look back at the past, you see that energy sources have been dominated by conflict: oil has prompted some bloody wars; opinion is divided on the nuclear question, and so on. IRENA is the first agency through which a consensus has been reached in this area,” according to Hélène Pelosse, who was previously Deputy Director in charge of International Relations on the staff of the French Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea, and who also took part in the negotiations on the “Climate and Energy Package” during the French Presidency of the European Union. Conversely, if renewable energy is a unifying force it is because it is in her view “the right response for combating climate change” and “the only unlimited source of energy that will be able to meet the needs of the 10 billion human beings who will make up the world’s population by 2050”.
Information and support
Based at present in Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), IRENA’s aims are to provide support for sharing understanding and technology in order to give every country the means to exploit its renewable energy potential (using wind, thermal and photovoltaic solar, biomass, geothermal, water and other sources), to help remove the obstacles (technical, regulatory, financial, socio-cultural, etc.) that impede its development, and to disseminate examples of good practice. To achieve this, the agency should have a budget of some 20 million dollars, which should be supplemented by funding “provided by voluntary contributions from governments and the private sector to finance projects in developing countries,” adds Hélène Pelosse.
IRENA’s member states are to meet in January 2010 to agree on some broad outlines. The agency’s founding treaty is set to come into effect by the end of 2010, once it has been ratified by at least 25 countries. “Linking up research centres and creating a global database so that every country understands which resources are available to it; developing new products to make solar technologies accessible to the poorest populations; funding cooperation projects that serve as examples of good practice and responding to the huge need for training that exists,” will, in any case, according to the Director General, feature on IRENA’s list of tangible priorities in making the transition to renewable energy sources. It is a transition that will involve a revolution she readily describes as “Copernican”. In practice, she points out, “we have been living with a centralised energy system; we are now moving towards a decentralised system in which every building and every house will be able to produce its own energy. We are used to a rigid, isolated power network, but we are going to need one that is flexible and intelligent. We thought energy could not be stored, but in the future the batteries in millions of electric vehicles will increase storage capacities dramatically... It really is a revolution”.
Florence Raynal - Actualité en France No. 34 - September 2009